The United Arab Emirates is an interesting country. Half new world and half old world, the contrast of the two makes for a very unique travel destination. Dubai is the fast paced luxury capital of the world while some of the smaller Emirates like Fujairah are still seeped in local tradition. For a truly interesting trip venture beyond modern Dubai and experience some a little different.
# 8. Take a Desert Safari
Dune bashing or desert safaris are a big part of Emirati culture. Whenever it rains, which isn’t often, half the country packs up and heads out to the dunes to race around in 4 wheel drives. To give it a try ask your hotel about local tour companies that offer desert safaris. They are available in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and usually include a whole cultural experience. The driver will pick you up from your accommodation, take you out to the desert via an adrenaline pumping ride through the dunes. Once at the desert camp you can try out some of the Emirati cultural traditions such as a camel ride, trying on tradition clothing, smoking shisha, and enjoying a charcoal barbeque cooked under the stars.
Once a year hidden out in the empty quarter nearly the Saudi Border, the town of Liwa comes to life for the annual Al Dhafra Festival. The Camel Beauty Contest is a unique part of this experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity to see aspects of the Bedouin Culture. Held in December, when the weather is cooler, the Camels are judged on criteria such as the straightness of their ears and the length of their eyelashes. The winning camels are then covered in saffron and awarded their share of the 13 million dollar (U.S) prize money! Set among endless dunes with Saluki Racing, Cultural Shows and Markets this festival is worth the 6 hour round trip. Alternately spend the weekend at the Tilal Liwa hotel and enjoy all the empty quarter has to offer.
Named after the well loved founding father of the United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque is worth a visit. Located in the capital city of Abu Dhabi, the mosque is made from precious materials sourced from all around the world. Open to the public everyday, except Fridays in Ramadan, a trip to the mosque is educational and quite awe inspiring. The sheer amount of bright white marble on the exterior contrasts beautifully with the drab cityscape around it. The tour teaches you a little about islamic culture and is less daunting than wandering the mosque alone. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is a functioning mosque which means there is a dress code. All woman must cover from head to toe. Men must not have their legs showing but arms are fine. The mosque will provide you with clothing to cover if you are dressed inappropriately.
Emirati bull fighting is quite different to the Spanish kind. Two bulls enter the ring and fight by locking horns and pushing against each other. No weapons or matadors are involved and the losing bull is the one that backs down or walks out of the ring first. Luckily for these bulls they always live to fight another day. It is not just the bull fighting that is interesting to watch but the Emirati men and their sons are entertaining too. Dressed in their traditional Kandora and headscarf or Ghutra, their usual reserved nature seems to go out the window when their bulls are fighting.
The Walk in Jumeirah Beach, Dubai is a popular tourist destination with great hotels, shopping and food from around the world. The beach there is open and free for anyone to swim at. There is a water playground for young children, an offshore bouncy inflatable waterpark for older children and camel rides along the sand. This is the ultimate tourist stop in the United Arab Emirates. As you splash in the waves you can see the Palm Atlantis floating out in the ocean and the Burj Al Arab further down the coast, just like in those picture perfect shots of Dubai. It gets extremely hot here in summer and the water heats up to the temperature of a warm bath so you’ll have a lot more fun in you try this out between November and March when the weather is cooler.
If you visit Dubai you have to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa. It is impressive from the outside, but from 555 meters up high in the sky, the view from inside is unbeatable. Book your ticket online for around 4 or 5 pm and you can take advantage of the fact that once on the observation deck you can stay as long as you like. If you visit at this time of day you can see the megatropolis that is Dubai during the daytime and at night. The iconic tower is linked to Dubai Mall so once you have had your fill of the view you can head down to the Mall, Souq al Baha and the Dubai Fountain in Burj Khalifa Lake. The fountain has evening shows from 6 pm every day on the half hour until 11pm at night. The combination of lights, music and water is entertaining and best of all free.
Photo by Unknown
Photo by Unknown
# 2. Hike in a Wadi
If you after a different type of U.A.E experience you need to try a wadi hike. A wadi is a traditional word for an stone river bed or canyon. Most of the year they are dry but when it rains they fill up quickly with water rushing down from the mountains. Wadi Tayyibah near Masafi is an easy day trip from Dubai. Hiking around the area you can see the Falaj, the Bedouin irrigation system used for watering the palms. There are date trees and sometimes, depending on rainfall, the wadi is full of water creating a serene little desert oasis.
Head out to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi and visit Ferrari World. There is lots to see and do there for all ages but the game changer is the famous Formula Rossa. Hitting speeds of up to 240 kilometers an hours this roller coaster is eye watering fast, literally. Before you ride they provide you with protective goggles to wear. While on Yas Island you might want to check out Yas Waterworld, The Yas Mall and Yas Beach Club. If you are after something a little more sophisticated try out the Skylite cocktail bar on the roof of the Viceroy Hotel Yas Island.